SWANTON — The Village of Swanton has a plan to expand its police department, but will Swanton residents agree to it in March?
Given the lack of space available for day-to-day operations in the village, Swanton Village Manager Bill Sheets was at the forefront of the initiative to create a new public safety building to expand the space available in the village.
However, taxpayers still have to have their say in the plan, and both village and town residents will have their say by March.
For the village residents, will they be comfortable covering the bill for the new building? And for city residents, would they be willing to help pay for expanded police coverage?
The need for village space
Since Sheets started as village manager after Reg Beliveau retired, he has taken care of the village’s needs. Space constraints in the 50-year-old city hall quickly topped the list.
There were five departments running side by side in the old building, and today, more need to be built as village facilities near the end of their expected lifespan, Sheets said.
The papers pointed to the police department space as a prime example. With no sally port or functional holding cells, the village’s police department – headed by Chief Matt Sullivan – lacks some important tools needed for the day-to-day operations of a modern department, but there’s no room for expansion as the rest of the building is filled to capacity. Village Clerk’s Office, Electrical Department, Public Works and Fire Department.
The lack of garage space also hurts many village-owned vehicles. With fire department and public works equipment stored closely in the same area, any additional equipment is often left exposed to the weather, Sheets said.
the proposed solution? By developing another police and fire building, the reorganization will open up space for the remaining three departments to extend their legs in the main building.
The village already has a construction site. back in april, The village purchased 124 First Street for $400,000 In its goal of developing the property, the preliminary site plan was approved by the Swanton Development Review Board after some minor revisions last month.
However, the cost of the proposed building has not yet been determined. Sheets said he expects to have that number sometime by December.
In the meantime, a meeting is planned for Nov. 13 for a joint discussion between the Town of Swanton Selectboard and Swanton Village Trustees about the future of policing in Swanton.
With town residents demanding more police coverage, the Town of Swanton Selectboard is exploring whether it’s worth a deeper partnership with the village police department. Right now, village police cover town residents for eight hours a day, but it would be a different story if residents agreed to help cover the costs of the new building.
“If we pass the bond vote, we can extend 24-hour coverage to the city and village as well,” Sheets said. “We are uniquely qualified to be a role model for the nation in regional policing.”
As a former director of the Vermont State Police, Sheets said the topic of regional policing has been discussed over the past few decades in Vermont, but has gained traction in the past few years as Vermont’s contracting model often leaves large swaths of the countryside without regular police patrols.
The city of Swanton is a great example. Thanks to a contract with village police, city residents are served by village police from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., but any police calls made outside that window are redirected to the Vermont State Police, which is free to respond depending on the situation.
Given the current setup, City Manager Brian Savage said the selectboard has heard its fair share of complaints from concerned city residents. For some, it can be overwhelming especially if they are looking for help right away, but there are also safety concerns as the effects of hard drugs are felt in the area.
Creating better police coverage can alleviate those concerns, but it also comes at a price, Savage said. Town residents would likely need to approve increased taxes to help village residents shoulder the burden of the expanded administration.
“Of course, it’s a big expense, but you have to weigh what we’re currently getting for the service,” Savage said.
The agreement will likely be long-term – in the same vein as the agreement signed between the City of St Albans and the City of St Albans – moving forward.
If taxpayers agree to cover the costs, bonds for the new public safety building would be included in the police department’s operating costs, Sheets said. If other nearby towns, such as Sheldon, Enosburg and Highgate, contract with the improved Swanton Police Department, the cost to each taxpayer would be mitigated further, Sheets said.
The new division will better prepare Swanton for expanded growth.
“We can do all the other things we need to do to have a vibrant community,” Sheets said. “You can’t do any of that without taking a vital approach to public safety.”
Join the discussion
The discussion on Monday, November 13, scheduled to begin at 6pm at the Swanton Village Municipal Complex, is expected to be the first of many public discussions about the proposed combined Swanton Police Department. More information about the project is also expected to be released as it becomes available.
“We are still in the discussion phase,” Savage said.
Sheets also plans to hold 10 informational open houses about the village’s need for additional space at City Hall during the month of December.
The dates and start times for these meetings are as follows: 6pm on December 7th; 10am, 2pm and 6pm on December 12; 10am, 2pm and 6pm on December 16; and 10am, 2pm and 6pm on December 20.
The paperwork also offers to be available for a proposed “100 days of open houses” starting in January. If anyone in the public wants to come see the need firsthand, they can take a private tour, he said.
“We want to show the needs and chart the way forward,” Sheets said.